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Congress Remix: OpenCongress.org Launched

The website OpenCongress.org was launched today by the Participatory Politics Foundation with help from the Sunlight Foundation. As stated on the website: “OpenCongress brings together official government data with news and blog coverage to give you the real story behind each bill” and also “OpenCongress is a free, open-source, non-profit, and non-partisan web resource with a mission to help make Congress more transparent and to encourage civic engagement.” The site incorporates:

  • Official Congressional information from Thomas, made available by GovTrack.us: bills, votes, committee reports, and more.
  • News articles about bills and Members of Congress from Google News.
  • Blog posts about bills and Members of Congress from Google Blog Search and Technorati.
  • Campaign contribution information for every Member of Congress from the website of the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, OpenSecrets.org.
  • Congress Gossip Blog: a blog written by the site editors of OpenCongress that highlights useful news and blog reporting from around the web. The blog also solicits tips, either anonymous or attributed, from political insiders, citizen journalists, and the public in order to build public knowledge about Congress.

According to Govtrack creator Josh Tauberer, “OpenCongress is based (mostly) on the data set that GovTrack assembles and makes available for others to reuse, so I’m particularly happy that someone has finally reused it to make something new. As you can see from the front pages of the two sites, the focuses of the sites are fairly different, GovTrack being mostly reference and tracking, while OpenCongress is taking a stab at some analysis.”

Remix: Iraq Study Group Report

I’m sure every library in the country has a copy or three of the Iraq Study Group Report but here’s a fascinating remix of the report by Lapham’s Quarterly in association with the Institute for the Future of the Book. The project brought together a “quorum of informed sources (historians, generals, politicians both foreign and domestic) to add marginal notes and brief commentaries at any point in the text seeming to require further clarification or forthright translation into plain English.”

Hack the Government

Carl Malamud gave a talk at the 2006 OSCON (O’Reilly Open Source Convention) on “10 Government Hacks.” He has posted his presentation materials as a series of 10 movies with textual commentary on the Internet Archive. He says he…

…whirled through 10 hacks in 15 minutes. I left myself 23 seconds to sum it up. The hacks all have a point, and that point is that government should be less about private interests and more about the public interest. The skills we use in the open source world are tools of civic engagement, tools of citizenship. And, if we apply those skills of engagement to our government, it is possible, at least sometimes, to drag the political system (kicking and screaming perhaps) towards the common good.

Here are links to each of the 10 with short annotations on a couple of my favorites:

  • Hack 1: Be Media
  • Hack 2: Get Standing (Somebody Sold the Attic)
  • Hack 3: Be Government
  • Hack 4: Adopt the FCC
  • Hack 5: Enforce ODF By Proxy
    In my world of vaporware hacks to government I’d love to see, I imagine a Firefox extension that detects any proprietary format in a .gov URL and talks to a backend proxy running tools like docvert to convert-on-the-fly and store the doc for the next user. Government rarely provides even minimal security (https URLs, MD5 signatures on documents, signed email, etc.., etc…), so one could add value to lots of government data by signing on their behalf.
  • Hack 6: Audit the Feds
  • Hack 7: Link Check the Feds (Link Check the Mayor)
    …periodically run a link checker against all the departments, then send the head of the agency a list with the number of broken links, ranked by department. Oh, and send a copy of the list to the chairman of the congressional oversight committee. And to each department head in the agency so the ones on the top can have something to chat about with the ones on the bottom while they’re on the golf course.

    This hack works at any level of government. For example, link check your city government and send the results to your local newspaper. Pick a slow news day and your ranking will probably even make the evening news.

  • Hack 8: Annotate Hearings
    …take the time to watch a hearing and blog the good parts, it definitely gets the word out. For this hack, adopt a committee or an issue, and make a habit of watching what they do and systematically annotating them. If nothing else, you help set the terms of the conversation.
  • Hack 9: Hold Hearings
  • Hack 10: Map Spectrum (Summation)

More State of the Union Mashups

As we reported the other day (Remixes, Mashups in the news) there are several sites that have online tools for visualizing word use in the State of the Union speeches. Here are two more, one by Jason Giffey who is a librarian at University of Tennessee – Chattanooga.

Remixes, Mashups in the news

Remixes (now more often called Mashups) are in the news this morning. The Wall Street Journal has an article about the Chirag Mehta’s US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud.

Chirag has a story about the story on his blog: ‘Blog for Tuesday, January 23, 2007. We covered the site earlier here: remix: US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud.

And the New York Times has an online application that is similar to Chirag’s: The Words That Were Used.